It seems like yesterday that R.J. Hunter captured the nation’s imagination with a big shot that sent the third-seeded Bears of Baylor University home in the round of 64 in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The lasting memory of Hunter’s father and Panthers’ head coach Ron Hunter falling off his stool was showed hundreds of times over in the days and weeks following, even now the footage occasionally makes it's rounds when the Panthers near March Madness again.
The madness and magic of 2015 have all but faded for Hunter. Following the Panthers’ next game in the round of 32 Hunter declared for the NBA Draft. He was selected in the first round, 28th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2015 draft.
Since his selection into the league Hunter has seen himself bounce around to three NBA teams as he’s played for the Celtics, Bulls and Rockets in his four seasons leading into this season. Hunter spent much of the last two seasons bouncing in and out of the G League playing for the Long Island Nets and Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the 2017-2018 season.
Hunter admits his journey has been turbulent, but it’s not one he regrets or one that he’s ready to concede. Hunter’s journey has been his own and he’s going to ride it out through the good and the bad.
The fourth-year wing signed a training camp contract with the Atlanta Hawks prior to the opening of training camp. Early in camp Hunter appears to be in the running to earn a roster spot. In the Hawks first, preseason game Hunter got 8 minutes of run in which he scored two points.
Hunter views his movement throughout the first few years of his career as chess pieces being moved for the opportunity he now has to come to fruition.
“It’s been a journey for sure, this is my fourth or fifth team I’ve been on,” Hunter said. “It’s been good. The fact that this happened, just means a lot and had to fall into place for this to occur. There’s no regrets or bad ill about the journey so far.”
No regrets or ill-willed doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. Hunter remembers his Boston days. Hunter was mired on the bench and making trips back and forth to the G League. Hunter remembers being frustrated, struggling to figure out what he was doing wrong.
“I never felt like giving up, or that it wasn’t for me, I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong,” Hunter said. “That just became extremely frustrating. You’re young, you’ve got to understand that if you’re a young guy playing, it’s a blessing. You have to earn that time. It’s just really about getting better. Things happen and they’re going to happen, it’s a business and it’s a crazy business.”
Hunter’s patience and willingness to mature was rewarded over the last year. The game itself acted as a sanctuary in a time when many rookies and young players display doubt in their ability. In return, the sport has returned the favor.
Hunter has seen his game begin to evolve and his confidence has begun to rise coming off a season in which he averaged 20.4 points per game in the G League for the Rockets’ affiliate team the Grand Valley Vipers.
“Being in the gym was a type of release,” Hunter said. “Getting better was kind of the remedy to all of that. If all this had gone down and I’d been like ‘forget the game,’ and I’m just going to make something happen and figure it out from there, I would be really in some deep shit. I just try to keep getting better, so that when that opportunity does come all it takes it one strike and you’re back in it.”